It’s hard not to get comfortable in among the wash of blue and white tiles and the swill of a good sweet port served alongside them, but to rest on ones laurels in Porto is to miss out on one of the city’s best kept secrets: its gardens. Though not obvious from the heart of the Ribeira, even when the city is seen from the rooftops, it’s remarkable how frequently this densely packed city is punctuated by an exquisite green space. And in fact Porto’s gardens not only provide respite from the bustle of the centre: they also provide the perfect viewing platform from which to admire the city… in utmost tranquility.
The first garden on my list is the Jardim da Cordoaria. Nestled in between some of Porto’s principle sights – the blue tiled Igreja das Carmelitas and the tall, narrow Torre dos Clérigos, the Cordoaria gardens provide an oasis of calm in the city centre. There, an avenue of what look like birch trees but which seem to grow out of huge almost deformed trunks sets the scene for a garden which is dappled with filtered sunlight and which benefits from a very tranquil pond surrounded by perfectly placed benches. The park is not only peppered with pretty pink flowers and curving meandering paths: it is also a veritable outdoor art galley, filled with amusing sculptures depicting groups of men in conversation or at play. They make a perfect little selfie spot… for those so inclined.
Jardim da Cordoaria
Next up in the garden which satisfies every element of the kind of magical secret garden you long to find in childhood dreams: the Jardim das Virtudes. Literally lining the sloping sides of a masterfully terraced valley, blink and you will miss the discrete entrance to this garden which only starts to come into view when you enter the verdant valley. Once down there, what opens up is a place of spiritual magnitude, with seemingly deserted moss-covered fountains managing only the most meagre trickle into green ponds, while all around, stone walls, topiary and wild flowers give the garden the impression of carefully constructed desertion. And best of all, look between overhanging boughs and around mighty tree trunks and you will be treated to beautiful views over the Duoro river.
Jardim das Virtudes
Down the road from the Virtudes gardes is the biggest and perhaps the most impressive garden of them all – the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal. Because here, the visitor with time of their hands (which we sadly lacked) will be treated to not one but a whole handful of differing garden styles and topography, each sharing unbeatable views over Porto’s rooftops and the breathtaking Duoro as it widens on its way down to the sea. In these gardens, asides from a peculiar flying saucer-style construction at its centre, you will see nature at its manicured best, with knot gardens and tropical palms swaying in the breeze, a cafe next to a Monet style waterlily pond and bridge, and roaming free, peacocks and cockerels who defy any form of control on the extravagance of their coats of many colours.
Jardim do Palácio de Cristal
My final tip would be to leave yourself time to explore these gardens and sink stupendously within their atmosphere of mesmerising stupor. It’s the only way to really experience a garden at its best, leaving thoughts of city life and travel far, far behind.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.